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Kankakee issues a wake-up call, takes down Thornton

The No. 19 Kays knocked off No. 16 Thornton 46-36. Not many visiting teams have won in Harvey the past few years.

Kankakee’s Rashard Harris (11) controls the ball against Thornton.
Kankakee’s Rashard Harris (11) controls the ball against Thornton.
Allen Cunningham/For the Sun-Times

Timeout in Harvey.

There are no spectators in the stands, but several Kankakee players scream as they head to the bench, vocalizing the intense effort they mustered in the fourth quarter to force host Thornton into a bevy of turnovers and change the game.

‘‘This was a big wake-up call for everyone,’’ Kankakee senior Rashard Harris said.

The No. 19 Kays knocked off No. 16 Thornton 46-36 on Monday. Not many visiting teams have won at Thornton in the last few years. Kankakee lost twice to the Wildcats last season.

‘‘We have good chemistry,’’ Kays senior Amarion Osbourne said. ‘‘Everybody knows their role, and they don’t overdo anything.’’

Osbourne and Harris each scored 13 points, and Willie Strickland added nine points and nine rebounds. Joeron Hill finished with 11 points and five rebounds.

Darius Robinson made a three-pointer just before the third-quarter buzzer to pull Thornton (1-1, 1-1 Southland) to two points, then East Tennessee State recruit Brandon Hall (14 points, nine rebounds) opened the fourth quarter with a basket to tie the score.

That’s when Kankakee (2-0, 2-0) ramped up the defensive pressure and used a 12-0 run to take control.

‘‘Defense killed it off,’’ Osbourne said. ‘‘It stopped them from scoring. It stopped Brandon from scoring. It changed the game. We made them force a lot of shots.’’

Robinson finished with 12 points for the Wildcats, and Mark Williams added six points and nine rebounds.

Thornton was without one of its top players in guard Sean Burress. Wildcats coach Tai Streets said Burress should be eligible March 5. Burress, who played at Thornton last season, transferred to Indiana to play in December.

‘‘That kind of hurt us,’’ Streets said. ‘‘But we have to just try and eke out some games. It will be a good challenge for us. It wasn’t the prettiest basketball, but it was competitive. They are a tough team, so we will learn from it.’’

Kankakee also was affected by COVID-19. AJ Storr, the Kays’ top returning player and a likely high-major-college recruit, transferred to a prep school in Las Vegas in late July.

Coach Chris Pickett took over the Kankakee program in 2018 after leaving Vocational and quickly has turned the Kays into a rock-solid program.

Still, Harris is right that the area needs a wake-up call about the quality of Kankakee basketball the last few seasons.

‘‘A lot of it is that we are in a weird spot geographically,’’ Pickett said. ‘‘Some people consider us in the Chicago area and some don’t, so they don’t pay a lot of attention to us. But the people in the conference know what is going on. And the people in our Class 3A sectional know. We just go about our work and put our heads down. You know you are going to have to compete when you play against us. That’s the attitude we are taking.’’

Thornton hosts Thornridge on Tuesday and Young on Saturday. Kankakee, which had been off for 10 days since opening the season with a victory against Rich, will play three more games this week.

‘‘This is a big, big week for us,’’ Osbourne said. ‘‘We just have to keep pushing.’’

Watch the final minute of Kankakee at Thornton: